Demystifying the mystery around Miso

What is this 'Miso'??

While watching various international cookery shows, or reading recipe books we often come across very peculiar, unfamiliar yet interesting ingredients. One such contender is Miso. You will find it in many Japanese recipes ranging from Dashi soup to vegetable stocks to pickling meat. By now you have probably guessed that miso is an extremely versatile ingredient and is the soul of many Japanese delicacies.

Miso soup

Pickled vegetables served with miso, shiromiso and akamiso
So what is this miso? It is one of the most popularly used Japanese seasonings. Miso comes in the form of a thick paste made from fermenting soya beans with some salt and a very specific fungus Asperigillus oryzae. Depending upon the taste requirement, other ingredients like rice, barley etc may also be added during the fermentation process. The taste of miso may be loosely termed to be earthy, although predominantly salty.

The traditional miso has an ochre tinge, but white and red variants known as Shiromiso and Akamiso respectively are also manufactured.

Variants of Miso paste

The origin of the word miso still remains a mystery. But during the medieval times, miso was used as military provision in Japan. The high source of protein and its versatility made it an excellent substitute. The production of miso was an important economic activity.  

If you happen to find some, miso can be incorporated into a variety of modern and western dishes like winter salad dressings(miso slaw), marinades for fish or grilled vegetables, dumpling soups etc.